PULLMAN, Wash. - Tribal members from throughout the Plateau Region recently
gathered at Washington State University to hear talks on a wide array of
subjects pertaining to Indian culture of this region, past, present and
future, and to renew old friendships.
Following a welcoming address by the president of the University and a
keynote address by Antone Minthorn, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of
the Umatilla Board of Trustees, conference attendees were given the option
of attending any of six breakout sessions. Included were such diverse
subjects as the grand opening of NMAI to gender equality on the Colville
Reservation and a somewhat similar subject on the Umatilla Reservation.
Other options included female drumming in the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, the Nez
Perce Trail, plus a session on teaching the Yakama language. Lavina Wilkens
stressed the need for teaching the language because "I think our children
have lost their way ... our language was the way we lived."
A second group of presentations offered attendees a choice of five more
sessions. One session dealt with diabetes, another with Yakama history in
contemporary culture, others on Native languages, the Cowlitz at
Cathapotle, and the Nez Perce Tribe and the struggle to save salmon. Bob
Chenoweth with the Nez Perce National Historical Park, reviewed his
research on more than 30 old dugout canoes in various museums throughout
the region. Canoes defined much of life's activities in the hundreds or
thousands of years before the arrival of "horse culture."
Joe Pakootas, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville
Reservation Business Council presented the keynote speech during lunch and
then two more breakout sessions involving numerous options occupied the
afternoon. The Kootenai Language Preservation Program and the Parfleche
Project were two subjects.
In this second subject, an educational package with twin parfleches was
produced con-taining 20 items in men's and women's material culture at the
time of Lewis and Clark, and a panel of speakers spoke about making the
items and their uses. Some chose to attend a showing of the film "American
Cowboys" produced by Cedric and Tania Wildbill (Umatilla), which featured
two early cowboys, George Fletcher, an African American, and Jackson
Sundown, a Nez Perce and the first American Indian to win the World Saddle
Bronc Championship at the 1916 Pendleton Round-up.
A highlight of the conference was the traditional dinner served the first
evening during which tribal elders from throughout the Plateau Region were
honored. Each was recognized and presented with a blanket from Washington
State University and most accepted the opportunity to offer their own
comments and thanks.
Breakfast the second day featured a panel of three speakers. Kevin Howlett,
Salish, who supervises a $20 million budget for health care stated, "We no
longer have to accept that "we are secondary citizens on our own
reservations." Dr. Martina Whelshula, Colville, an education specialist at
Gonzaga University said, "Our culture, rooted in our language, can be a
powerful force in social change." She pointed out how "our language is very
specific with no room for misinterpretation ... a language of the heart."
Lenora Seelatsee, Wanapum, quoted her father in saying, "Never forget your
culture, your ways." And later said, "We learn through our hearts, not our
minds - in our heart it stays." She got a laugh from the audience when she
told of telling her father she planned to join the service and his response
was "No daughter of mine is going with a million men!"
Fifteen more subjects were available during three breakout sessions the
second day. A common comment was "It's hard to choose because everything's
so good." There were presentations on salmon recovery, 1855 treaties, the
Colville Trail and preparing Indian students for nursing careers.
Others included a historical photograph project, the Washaat religion, from
reservation youth to college and many others. Two involved the Nez Perce
and Lewis and Clark. The first presentation was on the collaboration
between the two groups and a current means of voicing an Indian perspective
and its significance for Indian peoples.
The title of the second presentation no doubt accounted for the large
audience: "Lewis and Clark: America's First Dead Beat Dads." Jody Pepion,
Blackfeet, a master's degree student, challenged the audience to think
about colonization, about society's view of Indian women from not only
Lewis and Clark but also from Columbus when women were listed as property.
She said she first thought of interviewing descendants of Lewis and Clark
but, "How many Native Americans would admit to being related to Lewis and
Clark?" She ended by saying that "Listening to oral history has given me
power on a daily basis as an indigenous woman."